Out walking along the river
I still saw the fever with her children
At supper in the coal light. Snow falling,
I climbed up through the wood
To the asylum to visit with Sister
In the locked ward. But hesitated
And went to the cottage to see the insomniac
Rich child who sits naked at the window:
Last night, in kerosene light, her back
Had a quality of milkglass. She curls
In the chair.
Her knees under chin, the room black--
The light at the window is all
Moon and snow. She is at it again:
With the nail of the little finger
She has flayed
The thumb of the same hand;
All but the little finger arthritic
With the procedure: the raw thumb
White like a boiled egg
In an upturned palm; the dead skin,
Bits of shell, not polished by hen straw.
Beyond the window there is a sudden
Convulsion of wind in the blue spruce,
Boughs dumping snow. I imagine
The brass makeweights that lift the other pan, Of this past summer, dust and pollen Rising around oxslaughter. A shudder
Passes through the child, taking
She cuts herself for the first time, a trickle
Of blood at the knuckle of the thumb
Like the single red thread
Through the lace hood and jesses
Of the medici falcons.
Her concentration broken, the hand
Loosens: one wing, one stone.
The sun is seeping over the snow.
She greets me with an acknowledgement
One reserves for a ghost.
From "Groom Falconer" (W.W. Norton: $17.95; 62 pp.) 1989 Norman Dubie. Born in Vermont in 1945, Dubie now lives in Tempe, Ariz., with his wife and their daughter and teaches at Arizona State University. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton.